Barack Obama became the first sitting president in U.S. history to cast his ballot before Election Day when he traveled to Chicago on Oct. 25, 2012, and took advantage of Illinois’ early-voting option. After casting his vote, the president lauded early voting.
“All across the country we’re seeing a lot of early voting,” he told reporters outside the polling place in Chicago. “It means you don’t have to figure out whether you need to take time off work, figure out how to pick up the kids and still cast a ballot. If something happens on Election Day, you will have already taken care of it. If it’s bad weather, you won’t get wet.”
Obama’s statement is now a bit prescient, considering that Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Eastern Seaboard Oct. 29 and 30, shutting down the early-voting process in several states.
In all, 32 states and the District of Columbia offer an early-voting option, and all registered voters in these jurisdictions may cast their ballots prior to Election Day without written approval or justification. The length of the early-voting period depends on the different state laws. Typically, early voting is available two to three weeks before an election. Most of the early-voting periods are set to conclude the Friday or Saturday before Election Day.
The following states offer early-voting options: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia offer an absentee ballot option that allows voters to vote by mail; however, 21 states require registered voters to provide a valid excuse or justification for why they cannot vote in person.
Thirty-one states have laws in place that require employers to give workers time off to vote. (See related article, “Most States Mandate Time Off to Vote,” from SHRM Legal Issues.) These laws vary widely in the amount of time employers must provide and whether or not businesses must pay employees for the time away from work. HR professionals should review the election laws in states where their organization or company has offices to ensure compliance.
States without laws requiring time off to vote are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia.
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.